October 30, 2023

Faculty book release: “A Wall Is Just A Wall: The Permeability of the Prison in 20th Century America” by Reiko Hillyer

Please join us in congratulating Associate Professor of History and Department Chair Reiko Hillyer on the upcoming publication of her latest book, A Wall is Just a Wall: The Permeability of the Prison in 20th Century America (Duke University Press, February 16, 2024). Influenced by her work teaching in the Inside-Out program,  Hillyer traces the decline of practices that used to connect incarcerated people more regularly to the free world.

Book Description

“Throughout the twentieth century, even the harshest prison systems in the United States were rather porous. Incarcerated people were regularly released from prison for Christmas holidays; the wives of incarcerated men could visit for seventy-two hours relatively unsupervised; and governors routinely commuted the sentences of people convicted of murder. By the 1990s, these practices had become rarer as politicians and the media—in contrast to corrections officials—described the public as potential victims who required constant protection against the threat of violence. In A Wall Is Just a Wall Reiko Hillyer focuses on gubernatorial clemency, furlough, and conjugal visits to examine the origins and decline of practices that allowed incarcerated people to transcend prison boundaries. Illuminating prisoners’ lived experiences as they suffered, critiqued, survived, and resisted changing penal practices, she shows that the current impermeability of the prison is a recent, uneven, and contested phenomenon. By tracking the “thickening” of prison walls, Hillyer historicizes changing ideas of risk, the growing bipartisan acceptance of permanent exile and fixing the convicted at the moment of their crime as a form of punishment, and prisoners’ efforts to resist it” (Duke University Press).